FF Bold Predictions: AFC
The 2022 NFL Season is right around the corner and fantasy draft season is heating up. As the final rosters are being set and the final cuts being made, it’s time to start looking forward to week one and beyond. Fantasy football is growing faster than Tyreek Hill shaking a rookie DB and there are really no true secrets any longer. Everyone knows the rankings, everyone knows the standouts, and everyone knows the guys to fade. Winning your league is more difficult than ever and likely takes a few bold moves throughout the season to get to the promised land. Bold moves take bold predictions, and bold predictions aren’t easy to hit on. Today we’ll look at one bold prediction for each AFC team.
Buffalo - James Cook will be a top 15 PPR Running Back
The Buffalo Bills shot their best shot at JD McKissic in the offseason only to ultimately watch him go back to his ex, the Washington Commanders. They quickly pivoted and drafted Georgia’s receiving back, and Dalvin Cook’s little brother, James Cook in the second round of the draft. The Bills boast one of the most explosive offenses in the National Football League, led by arguably the best Quarter Back in the league, Josh Allen. Despite the offensive success, they have struggled to find consistent production in the run game.
Devin Singletary and Zach Moss are the definition of solid guys. Singletary finished 20th overall in both standard and PPR formats last season. Moss was a reliable secondary option. Neither of them offers the explosiveness and pass-catching ability of James Cook. Cook is far from a perfect prospect and will likely take a few games to ease into his role, but once he gets settled in he has all of the tools to take off quickly. Cook is the type of running back that could go on a tear-down the stretch and lead your team through the fantasy playoffs. He can currently be had as the 42nd running back off the board.
New England - Rhamondre Stevenson finishes inside the top 15
Bill Belichick has always wanted to pound the rock and play defense. This was the case throughout most of Tom Brady’s tenure and was even more true last season with Mac Jones under center. Damien Harris finished 8th overall in standard formats last season and would seem like the obvious candidate to lead this backfield into 2022. Rhamondre Stevenson would like a word.
Stevenson is a 6 ft almost 250-pound runner who is explosive and does not typically go down on first contact. People often talk about who will take the James White role in this offense. James White, he is not but he may have some LeGarrette Blount in him. Stevenson has had a phenomenal offseason and has pulled at least even with Damien Harris in this offense. If he is given the chance to be a true bell cow a top 12 finish is not only within reason but may be downright likely.
Miami - Jaylen Waddle finishes ranked higher than Tyreek Hill
Tua Tagovailoa enters his third season with a bevy of weapons at his disposal, and a chance to live up to his pre-draft pedigree. The Dolphins spent the offseason focused on beefing up the offensive side of the ball. They brought in Terron Armstead and Connor Williams to beef up the offensive line. They added Chase Edmonds to lead their running back room. Then the big splash came adding Tyreek Hill via trade. Hill has been one of the best fantasy WRs in the league since entering the league, finishing with 5 top 12 finishes in his 6 seasons. While Hill will have plenty of opportunities to dominate in this offense, the Dolphins already have a budding superstar at the position in Jaylen Waddle.
Waddle took over the WR1 role in this offense and finished his rookie campaign with 104 Rec, 1015 yards, and 7 Total TDs. All this while drawing the top coverage options on each team's opposing defense. He won’t have that problem this year with Hill and the rest of the weapons around him. The 23-year-old already has an incredible rapport with Tua and should remain one of his favorite targets. Hill and Waddle both have a chance to be in the WR1 discussion but don’t be surprised if Waddle finishes a rank or two higher.
New York - Elijah Moore finishes as a top 10 WR
Elijah Moore was WR2 from weeks 9-13 last season but it seems like everyone has forgotten as he is currently going as the WR 30 off the board. If you take those numbers and put them across a 17-game slate Moore would have finished only behind Cooper Kupp in total PPR points. The Jets have done a masterful job of building a young core with superstar potential. None of those stars will burn as bright as Moore. Moore has been compared to Stefon Diggs, Antonio Brown, and Steve Smith in the offseason, and when you watch him play it’s easy to see why.
He has been a standout all pre-season and this seems like the last time you will be able to get Moore at this cost. This feels a lot like Antonio Brown circa 2013. America’s favorite cougar catcher Zach Wilson will start the season on the sidelines but backup Joe Flacco is a Super Bowl-winning veteran who should be able to pepper this talented receiving core with targets. Flacco did start two games during Moore’s five-week stretch of terror. Buy Moore, this will be your last chance.
Pittsburgh - Najee Harris finishes outside of the top 12 RBs
Najee Harris was a fantasy force last year with almost 1700 yards, 10 total TDs, and 74 receptions. He was one of the few bright spots in Ben Roethlisberger’s final season and finished as the RB3 overall. The numbers were a little loaded due to volume, and he left a lot to be desired from an efficiency standpoint averaging just 3.9 yards on his league-leading 381 touches.
Also, consider that a staggering 19% of his total receptions came in one game as he caught 14 of 19 targets against Cincinnati. The Steelers also will be starting the season with a new QB for the first time in a long time. Whether it’s Mitch Trubisky or rookie first-rounder Kenny Pickett, the Steelers should be able to get the ball further down the field than Ben was able to last year, which would eat into a lot of those dump-offs Harris received last year. Add in the improved mobility of either signal caller cutting into some of Najee’s load as well and it is likely that we will see regression from the RB in 2022
Baltimore - Rashod Bateman finishes as a top 15 WR
Hollywood Brown was WR 22 last season for a Ravens team that was completely decimated by injuries. He is gone and so too are his 145 targets. Rashod Bateman will step into his role and should have no problem not only surpassing Brown’s productivity but smashing his current ADP of 27. Bateman is a tough physical receiver who can win inside and out and can also win deep. He will be a favorite target of returning Lamar Jackson.
Mark Andrews will still be the number one target but Bateman should have little competition behind him as the Ravens feature Devin Duvernay and James Proche as the other starting WRs on the depth chart. Factor in a healthier offense and Lamar Jackson and Bateman should see a minimum of 150 targets. Bateman is a potential league winner this season and volume alone should make him a high-end WR2 on most weeks.
Cincinnati - Joe Burrow will finish outside of the Top 12 QBs
Last season was a magical run for Joey BRRRR and the Cincinnati Bengals. Everything that could go right, did, and they rode that wave all the way to the Super Bowl where they came up just short against the Los Angeles Rams. With an improved offensive line, and a return of all of their major contributing pieces, Burrow should be in line for an even bigger 2022 season. Well…not so fast.
While Burrow was phenomenal in his sophomore season, his TD rate and passing yards per completion were both astronomically high and not likely to be reproduced. This is no knock on Burrow, the guy is one of the best young signal callers in the league, but people are purchasing Burrow at his ceiling. If anything breaks wrong for the Bengals this season he is unlikely to repeat his previous performance and lightning doesn’t typically strike twice.
Cleveland - David Njoku finishes as a top 8 Tight End
This offseason saw the Brown make headlines by obtaining Deshaun Watson and shipping off Baker Mayfield. Watson will be suspended for the first 11 games of the season, so Jacoby Brissett will be their signal caller in Watson’s absence. The Browns did bring in Amari Cooper to be their WR1, but he is hardly a lock to stay healthy and has declined each of the last two seasons. Behind Cooper is Donovan Peoples-Jones and David Bell - not the most inspiring group.
The Browns will be a run-first offense and will be led by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, with a sprinkle of D’Ernest Johnson. Someone will have to catch a few passes from Brissett though and this is where David Njoku and his 4-year/57 million dollar extension comes into play. Gone are the days of Austin Hooper eating up all of the tight ends in Cleveland. Njoku should be the second most targeted receiver on this team, and that volume alone puts him in the back half of the starting tight-end discussion. Njoku has all the talent, and will likely take an even larger leap when Watson gets back on the field, but look for him to make his mark with Brissett early and often.
Jacksonville - Travis Etienne goes for 1200 yards
Travis Etienne never got a chance last season as he lost his rookie campaign to a Lisfranc injury. James Robinson has done an admiral job as a 7th-round draft pick, but Etienne is one of the greatest playmakers in college football history and he is matched with his college Quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Robinson is also coming off an Achilles injury which has been historically devastating for NFL RBs. The Jaguars brought in Christian Kirk who should see a lot of passing volume, but leaves a lot to be desired as a true number one option.
The Jag's offense was not good last season and it definitely didn’t feature anyone as dynamic as Etienne. Etienne has lined up in both the backfield and out wide during training camp and will be utilized all over the field in Jacksonville. The team around him may not be pretty, but he has an excellent chance to be the AFC’s version of D’Andre Swift. The tandem of Lawrence and Etienne was special in college, it shouldn’t take long for them to start being special in the pros.
Tennessee - Derrick Henry rushes for 2K yards, again
Derrick Henry was RB1 by a mile in 2021 before succumbing to an injury that cost him the rest of the regular season. Through 8 games he was on pace for 1991 yards and could have very well crested 2000 yards in back-to-back campaigns. Henry is healthy again and ready to return as the top RB in the NFL. The Titans have had a pretty rough offseason trading away star wideout AJ Brown and replacing him with first-round pick Treylon Burks who has been underwhelming since being drafted.
This will likely lead to teams loading the box against the Titans, but as Henry has shown in the past, it doesn’t matter. Henry was also on pace to score 21 TDs last season. Henry’s health will play a huge role in his upside, but if any RB can overcome injury concerns it’s Derrick Henry. 2000 yards is a mark seldom hit at the RB position and no RB has ever done it twice. With an extra game baked into the season, Henry will be knocking on the door of the feat once more in 2022.
Houston - Nico Collins finishes as a top 24 fantasy WR
Nico Collins is currently being drafted as WR76 coming into his sophomore season.
The Texans are expected to be amongst the worst teams in the league. Second-year QB Davis Mills did enough to earn the nod this season and is looking to build on the momentum he created down the stretch in 2021. Brandin Cooks is locked in as the alpha receiver, but Nico Collins is a huge breakout candidate in his sophomore campaign. Collins failed to inspire in his rookie campaign, but a lot of that can be attributed to shaking off the rust as he missed the entire 2020 season due to Covid.
Collins has been a star during training camp and it seems as though he has built some good chemistry with Mills. Collins is a big-bodied receiver who can play all over the field and should be a huge red zone threat for this offense. He is currently being drafted as the 76th WR off the board. He is projected to have a large role in this offense that will likely spend a lot of time playing catch-up. Collins has the chance to be the steal of the draft season.
Indianapolis - Matt Ryan finishes as a QB1
Another year, another veteran QB brought in by the Indianapolis Colts, this time it’s former league MVP, Matt Ryan. Ryan goes from one of the worst teams in the NFL to a playoff contender and could see a career resurgence. Before the wheels completely fell off in Atlanta last season, Ryan had been a QB1 for 3 consecutive seasons and 4 of his previous 5. Last season Carson Wentz finished as QB14 in this offense, and few would disagree Ryan is a sizable upgrade over him.
Ryan has historically had great fantasy weapons around him and should feel at home with Colt’s weapons Jonathon Taylor and Michael Pittman Jr. Taylor was a top 4 fantasy RB in his rookie season and the number 1 overall last season. Pittman took a huge leap in year 2 finishing as WR2 on the season and cresting 1000 yards. Nyheim Hines is still in the mix as an elite passing RB and this could be the year that Parris Campbell can finally stay on the field. He may not add much with his legs but only 10 Quarterbacks threw for 4000 yards last season, including the top 8 overall ranked QBs in fantasy. Before last season Matt Ryan had hit that mark for 10 consecutive seasons. If you find yourself fading QB’s in your draft, Matty Ice presents a phenomenal value late.
Denver - Courtland Sutton finishes as a Top 10 WR
The Broncos added WR Russell Wilson in the offseason and became instant contenders in the AFC. Nobody should benefit more from his arrival than Courtland Sutton. Sutton struggled last season coming off of the torn ACL that ended his 2020 campaign. He never quite looked like the Pro Bowl WR who finished as WR 17 in 2019. That season he caught passes from Joe Flacco, Drew Lock, and Brandon Allen. Over the last two seasons, DK Metcalf has finished in the top 10 WRs with Wilson feeding him the rock. Sutton should slot right into that role.
Sutton should be the primary red zone target in this offense. Cortland Sutton may receive fewer targets than Jerry Jeudy, but Jeudy only has 8 career red zone targets. Tim Patrick and Noah Fant are both gone, which should only increase Sutton’s target share and red zone percentage. If he returns anywhere close to his 2019 form Sutton will be a fringe WR1. The addition of DangeRuss locks him in as a top 10 fantasy WR.
Los Angeles - Austin Ekeler finishes outside of the top 10 RBs